Posted: March 13, 2012, 5 a.m. EDT
A chinchilla might chew its fur because of genetics, learned behavior or stress.
Q: We adopted a chinchilla about four months ago, and he has been losing hair on both his rear hips. I have read about it, and it seems like he may be biting it or losing it from the cage. He has short hair still on his body, which makes me think he is biting it. We don't stress him, and we let him out for hours to play at night. He likes to jump right in our lap and follow us around. I do find small amounts of hair around the cage on occasion. We give him a dust bath four or more times a week but have not brushed him to date. A picture is included. Let me know your thoughts, as I am concerned.
A: Chinchillas constantly shed and renew their coats, so it is not unusual to find some fur in the cage or left on clothing. This is particularly evident when seasons change. Some chinchillas with thicker coats tend to shed much more than others with shorter, finer coats.
Dust Bath: Some dust bath powders contain silica particles, which are sharp, microscopic shards of glass. This type of dust bath dust can cause cutting of the hairs and excessive fur loss. It can also cause eye, skin or lung irritation. Check the label on the dust being used to see if silica is mentioned as a component. Another way to check is to put some dust on a plate, and hold the plate up so the sun shines on it. If you see sparkling, then that is a reflection off the silica. Only use dust bath dust that does not have silica.
From the picture, it looks as though your chinchilla is fur chewing, which means pulling out or biting off fur with his teeth. Fur chewing is not to be confused with ringworm or other fungus that causes loss of fur plus scaly patches and reddened skin.
There are several sources of fur chewing in chinchillas:
1) Genetic: If one or both chinchilla parents are chronic fur chewers, then fur chewing may be a recurring problem throughout the life of the chinchilla.
2) Learned behavior: A chinchilla may learn fur chewing from a parent, a sibling or a cagemate. Often the chewing may subside after the chinchilla is weaned or separated from the chinchilla exhibiting the behavior.
3) Stress: Chinchillas are very routine-oriented. Their hearing is very acute and sensitive. Changes in feeding time, in their cage, in cage location, in cagemates, in surroundings, or high noises (from animals, children or loud music) can cause a chinchilla to be stressed as can a change of the caregiver (food provider), increases in foot traffic around them or in general, too much noise and stimulation.
If you are able to identify and mitigate the causes of stress, your chinchilla’s fur chewing may very gradually subside or even completely stop, but the fur chewing may return if the stress level increases again.
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